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5 of Idaho’s largest companies just called out the Legislature for not supporting diversity

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Idaho State Capitol

Five of Idaho’s largest employers, each with significant national and global presence, have called on the Idaho Legislature to support the state’s diverse communities and reject divisive legislation.

“Passage of these bills could hurt our ability to attract and retain top talent to Idaho, and it could damage Idaho’s ability to attract new businesses and create new jobs,” states a March 2 letter jointly signed by Chobani, Clif Bar, HP and Micron to the Senate State Affairs Committee, which has two transgender-related bills pending before it.

“With respect, we ask you to support all of Idaho’s diverse communities and reject these measures,” concludes the letter.

In a separate letter sent March 3 to Senate and House leaders from Mark Peters, Idaho National Laboratory director and Battelle Energy president, he states he is “hearing concerns within INL and throughout our community about the substance and tone of discussions taking place this legislative session and how those negatively impact the way Idaho is perceived outside our borders.”

According to the Idaho Department of Labor, Micron is the state’s third largest private employer, INL operator Battelle Energy Alliance is the sixth largest, HP is 14th and Chobani 64th.

INL, located in eastern Idaho, is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s complex of national laboratories. The facility focuses on research and development in the areas of energy, national security, science and environment.

Chobani and Clif Bar, both located in Twin Falls, operate large food-manufacturing facilities. HP and Micron, both located in Boise, are giants in the technology sector.

“As an institution, INL places great value on inclusion and diversity,” Peters wrote. “To serve the American taxpayer by resolving the nation’s energy and security challenges, we need everyone at the table and for them to know they are valued, appreciated and free to be their authentic selves.”

Transgender-related bills in Idaho

The two transgender-related bills cited by Chobani, Clif, HP and Micron, already have passed the House.

House bill 500, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, would ban transgender girls and women from participating in sports that align with their gender identity.

The legislation, dubbed the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, would apply to all sports teams sponsored by public schools, colleges and universities. A girls’ or women’s team would not be open to students who were born as male, even if they identify as female. The bill does not apply to transgender students wanting to participate in boys’ or men’s sports.

The House on Feb. 26 passed the bill 52-17, with only three Republicans voting against the bill: Reps. Greg Chaney, Caldwell; Caroline Nilsson Troy, Genesee; and Bill Goesling, Moscow.

The Senate State Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the transgender sports bill 8 a.m. Friday, March 6.

House Bill 509, sponsored by Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, makes it illegal for transgender people to change gender markers on their Idaho birth certificates. Under the bill, a birth certificate can be amended only within one year of its filing. After one year, it can be changed only via a court challenge “on the basis of fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact.”

The House on Feb. 27 passed the bill 53-16, with only two Republicans voting against the bill: Reps. Doug Ricks, Rexburg, and Linda Wright Hartgen, Twin Falls.

A Senate State Affairs Committee hearing date has not yet been set for the transgender birth certificate bill.

Both of these bills are on shaky legal ground.

The birth certificate bill defies a federal court order.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Candy W. Dale ruled in March 2018 that Idaho officials can no longer “automatically and categorically” reject transgender individuals’ applications to change the sex listed on their birth certificates.

The transgender female athletes bill is likely unconstitutional, according to an Idaho Attorney General’s Office analysis.

The bill’s legal flaws include possible violations of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause, privacy violations in determining how a student’s sex would be established, and commerce clause violations because it could conflict with NCAA and other national sports organization rules, according to the AG’s office. Additionally, the bill only applies to transfemale athletes, not transmale athletes.

“Courts have found that governmental actions distinguishing between transgender and nontransgender individuals is a type of sex-based discrimination,” wrote Brian Kane, assistant chief deputy attorney.

A third transgender-related bill met with an early defeat.

House Bill 465, sponsored by Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, would make it a felony for health care providers to provide therapy and medical treatment for transgender children.

Following several hours of emotional testimony on Feb. 25 by medical professionals, transgender people and parents of transgender children, House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee Chairman Greg Chaney announced the next morning that he would hold the bill in committee, effectively killing it.

Chaney said in a news release that public testimony “showed the very real struggle faced by those with gender dysphoria, their families and their providers. While I strongly disagree with their conclusions and course of conduct, the parents and providers of those with gender dysphoria are very intently attempting to do what is best as they see it.”

In addition to the transgender-related bills, this session the Legislature has again refused to take action on a bill to add the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act to protect LGBTQ residents from being fired or denied housing due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. This session marks the 14th consecutive session with no action on this issue.

Some leadership members respond

The Statesman reached out to Senate and House leadership — Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, and House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise — for comment on INL’s letter, which was sent directly to them.

Hill said he has no comment on Peter’s letter. Bedke has not yet responded.

Stennett said she appreciates the company’s “commitment to employing qualified citizens.”

“Inclusion and diversity are necessary for a thriving economy in Idaho. There’s no room for discrimination or bias when we have thousands of unfilled jobs in our state. A diverse workforce makes Idaho’s workforce highly-skilled and resilient to economic fluctuations,” Stennett said.

Rubel responded, “Idaho businesses have told us time and time again that diversity is necessary for industries to succeed. If we become a state that overtly encourages discriminatory practices and legislation, we will lose businesses who understand the importance of inclusion in the workplace.”

“To truly be the business-friendly state we strive to be, Idaho should be doing the opposite of what it is doing now — we should be sending a message that we are welcoming and inclusive,” she continued.

This story first appeared on the Idaho Statesman. It is used here with permission.

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